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Role of Babas In Odisha Politics

Radhakanta Barik

Spiritual tradition in Kendrapara is a part of little tradition in Hinduism. Here the “tradition connotes the act of handing down and what is handed down from one generation to another.” (Singer:1959:x) It is combination of Buddhism and Suffiana tradition where Fakir has evolved. One cannot ignore the influence of the Jagannathan cult where one recites the Bhajans and Janans in the name of Lord without any discrimination of caste and community. The design of the vernacular architecture can explain the phenomenon. Each house at the front there is a verandah where the local spiritual leaders could take rest without house owner’s permission. Bikhus used to come and give sermons to local people. The Bikhus turn into fakirs of modern period who do not have any aspiration for material goods beyond their requirement. They try to meditate and solve the local problems. Whatever one gives they accept but not beyond their daily needs. They never expect the expensive goods from people nor people do offer such gifts.  In every locality there is an ashram where these fakirs or monks do live in. In an interview with a historian cum civil servant belonging to this area Shri Kelu Swain says that some monks are always on move. They do not stay in one place except the rainy season they prefer to stay in their ashram.  One day a fakir came to our village when he was the Tahsildar of Patamundai. He came to him and advised him to solve the problems in his village by spending some time there. He did not charge any money from the village people. On a query what he would eat today he smiled without taking any money from him which he offered.

The spiritual leaders   of this belt are a part of this living tradition.  Santosh Raul has taken clues from this tradition and taken interest in reinventing it in the context of globalisation. He is born and brought up here. His father was a government servant working in Electricity Department as lower rank person. His father had a fascination for tantric works but did not succeed. He confined himself to this region. His son after getting schooling from here joined the college at Kendrapara. He studied one year and then abandoned his studies. He disappeared from the scene for some time. It seems that he went to Satya Sai Baba Ashram and lived in there. His father belonged to a Telugu family. He is conversant with Satyasahi baba’s magical power. He has an access to this math. He has learnt some magical works of Baba. He came back to Kendrapara and started an ashram near the river Govari and two Kilo meters away from the town. He desires to remain in touch with the town.  He has enjoyed urban facilities and communicated with urban people. But he felt deficiency in his approach. He went back to Assam and started learning tantric from a known Guru at Guwahati. He was aware of Assamese tradition from Odisha point of view that going to Assam or Kamrup where a boy turns into a girl and vice versa. Moreover, with tantrik power one keeps someone as a sheep in his house. This impression made him to visit Assam and learnt tantrik from the guru at Kamakshadevi temple. This magical power made him conscious of his power and capacity to impress rich and powerful people of this world. This strength has shaped him as a spiritual guru. He turned into a part of great tradition. A great tradition has been shaped by priestly class with a written tradition bringing shastras such as Ramayana and Bhagabat Gita into it. (Singer: xi) Shri Raul has been baptized as Sarathi Baba.  Some time back he went to Puri to reinvent this great tradition by telling the stories from Chaitanya Deva, he got thousands of people to the Bada Danda of Puri. Moral and ethical framework of a local society accepts Chaitanya Dev tradition and integrated it into their local culture. Local people sing with the musical instruments which get enjoyed by public as a recreation programme.

Kendrapara remains as an agricultural society. It used to have three crops such as rice and rabi and Jute as a commercial crop. It is an irrigated zone which makes people agriculture a sustainable profession. During the colonial rule they produced an important   commercial crop Jute. Jute cultivation made these farmers having some additional income and a close association with the city of Calcutta. After independence Dinabandhu Sahu, a progressive politician became a minister in the Congress ministry. He established a Jute Research Institute and a factory for Jute production at Kendrapara. Both have been closed for some time. Nobody has attempted to revive it. Although this is the place of Biju Patnaik used to win his Parliament seat. After his death no body is speaking for people of Kendrapara. Jute production has declined which caused a lot of economic distress among peasant communities. This distress led to revival of religion in this area. This vacuum got filled up by Sarathi Baba who started preaching with a lot of tantra and magic. At the outset local people accepted Raul without hesitation. On their level of perception, he belongs to little tradition.  When they have problems of sexual disorientation or come under the influence of the ghosts they start coming to get relief what Sudhir Kakar says as ‘the Divine Healer’ (Kakar:2011:3-35)  

 Rice production is not a viable crop because of high cost of production and non-availability of labour. Labour from here has migrated to far off place. Tradition of migration is there for a period of two centuries. People used to migrate as semi-skilled labour such as plumber. One finds Odiya plumbers hailing from this region working in each part of India and towns of Arab countries. Today, it is difficult to migrate as plumber because local people want to compete for the job. This has created distress in a peasant society. Distress leads to religion. They turn into religious activities without getting into an aggressive mood. On the level of perception, they do not approve the religion as a grand spectacle for which they have questioned the role of Baba. Their religiosity has not got yet commercialized. In an interview with the villagers we realised the village community has not only questioned Baba’s behavior but rejected him totally. There are three important castes sharing the same space such as Khandayat, Maliks (dalits) and Brahmins. Each caste has rejected in their collective actions. For instance, Maliks have protested against people coming to Baba and having open defecation in front of their houses. They attacked some of them three years back. Brahmins do not support the baba who claims that he belongs to Brahmin. They feel that Sarathi Baba’s behaviour does not fit into this caste’s social framework.  Khandayats having a major share of lands in the village questioned him that his plundering approaches. All three castes living in the village having agricultural occupation combined with livestock economy shared social space. (Cohn: 3-27)As Cohn argues that caste system in each region is different there is no single model of social analysis. Each family owns land in the village supplemented their income through livestock economy. There was no landlord family in the village. This village used to come under the authority of Ali landlord. Some of them have migrated to cities for earning their livelihoods.    The Baba is spoiling their environment and ecology. The Govari River is getting polluted because of the temple’s activities. Their rural ecology such as pond, common land and cremation ground are getting polluted and the Baba is keeping his greedy eyes to acquire these properties. He has built the grand temple in the village in the community land which they used this grazing land. They do not have any grazing land now. The village society has filed a case against the baba two years back which administration got pressurized by them to declare ban order under 144 of the IPC. They did not get scared of the Baba who hobnobbed with the local administration such as SP and Collector. The police officer has been suspended on the charges of misappropriation of community property while working as the SP of a district. Here one notes down that many of the civil servants including IAS and IPS have done this while in office according a civil society activist Shri Mohanty  who filed a case in the High Court some years back with facts and figures but no hearing has taken place for years.

Sarathi Baba gets support from the powerful political elite from the region. The former MLA from Ali who was one time landlord of this area had sided with the Baba. The MLA Shri Agarwal hailing from the Marwari community had been giving support to the activities of the Baba. The village women we interviewed found dead against the Baba. They feel that the Baba has exploited women. They have not visited the ashram. The village community shows their collective action against the activities of the Baba.

It is interesting to note here that Kendrapara is a literate society having many schools and colleges. The most important college is Kendrapara College, one of the oldest colleges of the State. The College has produced a class of writers who have got an international recognition. Some of them have got awards from the Sahity Akademi and State Akademi. These writers cum scholars have a small coffee house in the college campus where they maintain a tradition of discussion and dialogue. Their intellectual production is measured in terms of quantity and quality. They work as public intellectuals of Odisha.

They have not got charmed with the magical works of the Baba. On the contrary, they questioned the behaviour and maintained a distance from his activities. Shri Ramchandra Behera, a leading writer who went once there and found Baba got excited to see his presence there. He requested him to write an intellectual biography on his spiritual activities which he refused to do so even on payment. The famous writer does his moral duty by questioning the Baba and his sexual escapades in his stories. Kendrapara society though a literate society cannot digest the Baba’s magic.  They cracked jokes on his activities. Moreover, they did not go there to get his blessings in fulfilling their aspirations. Today the societal aspiration is not located in the rural society but their aspirations are related to urban society. A large scale migration is a continuous activity here. As it is flood prone and cyclone prone, people of the region have moved out to the far-off places specifically cities of India and abroad as skilled workers.  They have got recognition as better plumbers and skilled labour in metropolis such as Calcutta and Delhi. But they are not a vehicle of carrying the magical ideas of the Baba to these cities.

Sarathi Baba used his communication method to spread his ideas among his followers from the cities. The use of electronic media has shaped his inflated image as a spiritual guru. He is very much aware of his rich followers and ignored the local poor people as his support base. In every day action of the Baba shows his bias. On enquiry of the Bhaktas he could find who are rich and upper middle class. He would call them to his inner chamber and give his special appearance to them by showing his magical works such as honey to tulsi. He would impress them in such a manner they would feel to give him some rich gifts. These rich gifts he took it and kept in various banks and buying land in various towns. He has supporters in the major metropolis of Hyderabad and Mumbai. He frequently visits there and collects expensive gifts. That shaped his personality in the context of metropolitan world. He is a more urban guru, although his main ashram is located in a village. His tastes are urban and fashionable according to urban society and market economy. His distance from the local society is proportionately increasing with his closeness to urban world. His sexual partners are from the urban fashionable women. This new taste he has developed after 2009 according to his close lieutenant. His going with his women Bhaktas to big cities without knowing that being watched by the local society. People from Kendrapara are living in all these cities that recognize him. Last appearance in Hyderabad with a young medical student got reported by these people. His sexual activities got reported by some workers of the hotel who belong to Kendrapara. They did not approve the Baba’s activities.

The Baba is a being a part of the social network of the Babas of this country.  He is a small in stature in comparison with Asharam, and others. It is reported by the local press that Sarathi Baba has acquired somewhat 100 crores of rupees where people doubt a major portion owned by the political leaders of this area. He starts negotiating with them for more influences abroad. This social network has created religious political order in the system which has been functioning for some years in the era of globalisation. . With his efforts through his network of rich followers he has transformed it into a grand spectacle. He used to give daily darshan through a television channel owned by the present MP Shri Panda from Kendrapara. The globalisation has given recognition to them having the number of rich supporters helping in acquisition of wealth. It does not give damn to the means of earning but the end should be amassing wealth.  These babas have succeeded to follow the messages from the globalisation point of view and carrying their symbolic actions in that direction. He started following the cultural logic of contemporary capitalism by bringing into media world. (Nico Baumbach, Young and Geneveere yue, Social Text 2015) They do not have to pay taxes or they do not have to follow legal means to reach this stage. They have accumulated wealth with their investment in modernization of religious activities such as CC tv and television channel to spread their message. Here the story goes through the CC tv that Sarathi Baba could see women bhaktas while sitting in his main room while changing their dress to enter into the temple. He could find who were the most attractive women he could target them at night.  They are able to provide to the consumer class to consume their sermons and enjoy those visual forms for self-consumption. The consumer class is ready to consume it whatever it is. They have brought a political religious order for maintaining channels of communication with politics of a society. They provide support for the political elite.  They take a share of wealth earned by the political class and business class. This sharing of black money has given him legitimacy in political order.

Many politicians of belonging to both ruling and opposition parties have shared their wealth with the Baba. Former MLA from Ali having feudal link has provided them land to the Baba which used to be a part of the illegal land of the feudal lord. This young MLA became a follower of the Baba. In the last election he lost because of these nefarious activities which have not got approval of the public. Moreover, another politician who belongs to trading community such as Marwari also paid money to him. There are other payees from the political class. He has got support from the BJP when he got arrested by the police rather than ruling party. The BJP took this opportunity for exploiting religion for commercial purposes. The BJP took this opportunity for exploiting religion for expanding their political support.  They held a demonstration in the city of Kendrapara in opposing the actions of the government when it was ordered by the chief minister to take a strong action against the Baba. This proves a point the present chief minister Shri Naveen Patnaik does not follow any baba for which his administration could take action against the Babas in Odisha.  

The religious political order is coming in conflict with the political administrative order. As the chief minister Naveen Patnaik is a secular and modern leader took strong action against these people for their nefarious activities.  He has directed the Crime branch to investigate into sexual exploitation, grabbing of land, killing of human beings and illegal way of earning money and murders by babas(The  Samaj1 -9-15) the chief minister took steps in analyzing the situation regarding crimes of the Babas with his senior officials where he took a serious note of Naxalism and the crimes of the Babas. In the meeting with the CM the Secretary Home, senior police officials attended the meeting  (The Samaj 8-9-15)the government has taken interest under what circumstances the Jhintia by Surababa’s Ashram has got recognition as the  tourist spot by the Department of Tourism is being  investigated by the government.  Pratap Dev MLA raised a point of order regarding funding to the trust by different MLAs. Jhintia Achuyat Ashram has branches in Bihar, Maharashtra and Nepal and Bhutan. It has about 40 branches in Odisha located in towns.   Investigation team found forty crores of rupees from his bed room; sometime back two criminals from Bihar got arrested from this Ashram. It is reported by the local press that former chief minister took former Prime Minister Shri Narashimha Rao to have a darshan to Sura Baba at Jhintia. Because of political patronage the local administration used to work for Surababa. In an interview with an executive engineer here one finds those engineers refused to work for Surababa’s multi crore building project got transferred and harassed. The political administrative order in a secular state has to act against these nefarious activities under various provisions of IPC. This conflict has come into a sharp focus in the present arrest of the Baba and suspension of the police official. The BJP in its political agenda is keeping its highest priority to grab Odisha into its fold. In its grand narrative it fits when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad demanded that land belonging to other religious sects should be investigated. Bringing conflict between on religious ground and supporting illegal activities of the Babas in the name of Hinduism fits into their grand narrative. The present Chief Minister with his sixth political sense could understand the political design of the BJP and taking actions against the illegal actions of the Babas.

The minister of Tourism Shri Ashok Panda raised a critical point regarding the suggestion made by the MLA of Ali Pratap Dev and Atanu Sabysachi MLA from Patkura in the year 2014 for making the place to be a tourist destination which got a support from the District Collector of Kendrapara. Sarathi baba’s place did not fulfill the conditions of cultural tourism for which it did not get a grant. Further he added that Sarathi baba’s ashram got a grant of rupees 15 lakhs from Usha Devi MLA fund and from rupees 40.000 Patakura MLA fund (The Samaj 26-08-15)

It is interesting to note here that the Rationalist Association of Odisha has prepared a legal document for enacting a law against the Superstition and illegal activities of the Babas in Odisha. They have filed a PIL against the Babas in the High Court of Odisha. According to the affidavit there are 5000 babas in Odisha involved in these nefarious activities which requires an urgent attention of the State. A poor state like Odisha having so many babas explains the ignorance of common people to sustain their activities. Here the modern state must bring a legislation to spread scientific temper in school and colleges which can help to reduce the role of the Babas in our society.  The present administration has given direction to the local Tahsildars to take action against the Babas who are involved in acquiring public land or private land or cheating and fraud cases. This has encouraged public to organise public action against the Babas which has produced a campaign against the babas. This has turned into a popular protest movement in various areas. In most of the places public has worked against their illegal property owned by these Babas. These actions have resulted in hiding of babas. In many places the maths have been burnt by them. Their land has been ceased by the village community.it is interesting to note here that nowhere killing or death has taken place. It is the most nonviolent movement in Odisha. A serious debate has started on the issue of the Babas and their magical works in public. People have started writing letters to the Editor in various local newspapers. These letters are of high quality. It reflects a critical outlook of people.

It is interesting to note here that in metropolitan society middle class was debating the crime committed by Mrs Mukherjee and killing of her daughter Sheena Bora. Every day the channels in English or Hindi are giving coverage in prime time about this issue. But in Odisha debates on superstition and illegal activities of the Babas have taken an aggressive shape. In the Odisha Assembly there has been a debate on the issue of Sarathi Baba. Some opposition leaders such as Taraprasad Bahinpati brought a censure motion on this issue. Devendra Sharma raised the point of order that Sarathi Baba has been turned into God which is a making of the present government. The government has paid a lot of money to the Matha. There has been payment by the government one lakh rupees. BJP leader Basant Panda alleged that an allocation of four crores for development of Baldevji has been diverted for the construction of road to Baba’s ashram.

An article written by an engineer from Germany in the leading newspaper on ‘Baba Maya Bharat’ (R N Das, Samaj 30-8-15) where he has questioned the activities of the babas all over India where as he has never seen rise of any baba in Germany society. “People of Germany do not believe in dead gods or living gods. It is a part of modern science and scientific thinking. ---One Sarathi is caught and thousands are cheating public. This is our stupidity. Our religious thinking does not revolve around the Dasabatar but each declared as godman is demanding that he or she is equivalent to god.” This brings the issue of modernisation and rise of protestant ethics in their religious world. This has strengthened capitalism in Germany. Odisha has not pushed capitalism despite being a liberal society. Ax Weber has raised a critical analysis of protestant ethics associated with rise of capitalism. Having liberal values in Odisha has not produced any substantive industrialization in Odisha. (Gerth and Mills) A retarded growth in our society has given rise to these mysterious babas who commit frauds against the public. There is a group of critics who think these baba are not a part of the great tradition constructed by Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Bamakshepa, Chaitanya, Vivekananda, Raman Maharsi, Arabinda, Yogananda Odisha’s Panchasakha.(Rammohan Mahapatra, Khurda, letter to the Editor, Samaj 7-9-15) Argumentative Odiya is debating over the issue of Baba which has been summerised in an editorial of the Samaj (2-9-15)  “Those Odiyas are  thinking of the these babas as gods have learnt a lesson that it is a part of superstition and wrong custom but it needs to be supported by scientific thinking and rationality.”  Here the role of media specifically the electronic media has been questioned that they speak out astrological forecasting which is misleading gullible public and strengthening

The superstitious beliefs that have been creating problems in a society. Here public has right to scrutinize the role of media and its misleading role.’ (Braja Kishor Dash, Bhubaneswar, The Samaj,2-9-15) The leading Odiya writer Prativa Ray has written an article in the Samaj and questioned the role of Babas as a part of superstitious thinking. Here we are giving a list of Babas below who have to leave their maths or Ashrams because of anger of public.

Table on Baba’s

Name of baba

Location

Private property

Cheating

Theft

Surendra Mishra
(Sura Baba)

Balianta

private land

thousands people

private land
and gold

Manu Baba

Kumbarpada

community
land cheating

cheating
of private individual

private land
and gold

Sankarananda  Giri

Bhubaneswar

community land
cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Anantabab

Baleswar

community land
cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Kanduri baba

Niali

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Aghoronath baba

Niali

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Daibii Kalashri Baba

cuttack district

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Sukhua Math Baba

cuttack district

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Alok Bisoi
(Atmaram baba)

Salepore

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Sawami Chita Nanda
(Khakendra Panda)

Mayrbhanj
Thakuramunda
block

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Bana Baba

Salepore

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

Sarathi Baba

Kendrapada

community land
and cheating

cheating of
private individual

private land
and gold

These Babas have been facing trials in the local courts on the charges of frauds and misappropriation of public property. It is interesting to note here that administration is siding with the babas. Some corrupt politicians have a nexus with them. It is high time the state brings out a law of banning the babas and their superstitious actions. In school text books there should be a chapter on scientific temper as it is there in Art 51 of Indian Constitution. Public has right to know the trials against them leading to justice. For last some years the public in Odisha have been cheated by the chit fund business which amounts to be hundred crores and after this today public is getting cheated by these Babas.

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Aug 24, 2019


Prof. Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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